FIVEaa Breakfast with David Penberthy & Will Goodings - 29/01/2021

29 January 2021

SUBJECT: Labor’s Shadow Ministry reshuffle.

WILL GOODINGS, HOST: South Australian Senator Penny Wong joins us in what's been a big 24 hours in the federal Labor Party. Senator, good morning to you.


DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: Good to be talking to you, Penny Wong. Happy new year. This is our first interview for 2021.

WONG: There you go, Penbo. We're off to a good start.

PENBERTHY: That's right. So, do you think that Albo, who's a regular here on 5AA, do you think that he's done enough to shore up his leadership? Because there's clearly been a lot of speculation and a lot of critiquing of different calls that he's made. Is this all about putting himself in a more stable leadership position?

WONG: No, this is not about any of our jobs, it's about Australian jobs. And if you look at the reshuffle it's about making sure that Labor is in the best position to meet the challenges the country faces and to be focused on the things that matter to Australians. You know, we've come through a pretty tough time, through the pandemic and all of the rolling economic shutdowns that we've had at different times. But we've still got wage growth at record lows. We've got underemployment and insecure work at record highs. You've got a couple of million Australians who either are without a job, or who don't have enough hours. Now all of those things are just a small part of the reminder that the focus has to be Australian jobs and that's what this reshuffle is all about.

GOODINGS: Does the reshuffle in the climate change portfolio signal a change in direction on that front? Are you going to start pressing a more assertive, a more expansive policy agenda there?

WONG: What I think we're seeing in climate here is someone who's got very strong economic credentials, Chris Bowen, appointed to a portfolio that is all about economic change. I mean the reality is, we all know climate change is real, but we also know that we've got to respond to it in a way that ensures we shift to a cleaner energy economy and get the opportunities of renewable energy jobs and jobs of the new industries. Now, what that means is we’ve got to have a smart, forward leaning approach on climate. As Albo has said, and I know people focused a fair bit on this, we will maintain and continue to have a very strong position on climate and we're reinforced by the election of President Biden who's got a very ambitious climate policy.

PENBERTHY: Is there a consensus within the party on that though, Penny? Because I think that the sort of punters take on this is Mark Butler - who has held that portfolio for a long time, is a great personal friend of yours, you're both members of the left faction - it sort of looks like Mark has taken one for the team to get Albo out of a pickle. Is there a danger now for progressive people that by giving that climate portfolio to the right faction that they might actually go for something a lot softer in terms of meeting climate targets in order to win back suburban voters who have regarded Labor as a bit too left wing on this issue?

WONG: First I'd say, I'd be really clear about what our policy position is and it's the same as President Biden's, which is net zero emissions by 2050. Now how we get there, that is the work of sensible people. That is the work of responsible government, and it's not responsible for Scott Morrison to be doing what he's doing. On Mark, he was up for a change and Albo agreed. And he's gone to a frontline portfolio. He's gone to health, which is always a frontline portfolio, but even more so in the middle of a pandemic. And in addition, he's taken up the responsibility of aged care. I think I've been on your program before talking about not only what we've seen in terms of the tragedies in aged care facilities in Australia but what the Royal Commission is telling us about the neglect that so many Australians have been forced to live with. And Mark with his history, both having been a former minister, written a book on it, I think is well placed to take on that frontline responsibility.

GOODINGS: Your former leader, Bill Shorten, earlier in the week described Labor's policy agenda as ‘tiny’, said that the party needed to stand for something. Are they fair criticisms?

WONG: Bill was leader for six years, he faced two elections and we lost both of them. And we, I think, are very clear about what our focus is, which is the next election. We've been very, very clear about our policy direction, and we'll have more to say, as the year progresses, about that. But I know what Albo is focused on, that is how do we build back stronger, how do we build back better, how do we make sure we don't leave people behind, and don't hold people back. So far what you've seen, whether it's on childcare or a future made in Australia, these policies are all geared at building back stronger.

PENBERTHY: He made a good point, I thought, the other night on the ‘7.30 Report’ interview Penny, even though some people unfairly derided him for it. The reality is, in the middle of a pandemic, it doesn't matter who's running the country or who's running the state. Most people instinctively want them to succeed, even if they're doing a good job or not.

WONG: I think that's right. And I reckon also, what they don't want is oppositions that just carp. So, we did take the view when the pandemic reached our shores, that we wanted to be a constructive opposition because ultimately the national interest has to be put first. But that doesn't mean we don't have a different view about where we go from here. We can do better, we can do better on jobs, we can do better on the vaccine. Remember, we're supposed to be at the front of the queue and we're clearly not at the front of the queue. Mr Morrison said there'd be four million doses rolled out by March, well we're not on track, we're not on track for that. So, there's a fair bit of work still to do and we will take the fight up on things that do matter to Australians and that's what this reshuffle is about.

PENBERTHY: Senator Penny Wong, who in the reshuffle retained her Foreign Affairs portfolio, which is probably something we'll discuss next time we have you on the program. Thanks for joining us this morning.

WONG: It's great to be with you both.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.